Aug 17, 2018 | By Thomas

As an important source of Earth’s most diverse ecosystems, coral reefs sustain 25% of the world’s marine life. Yet as climate change continues to drive a deadly underwater heatwave, these brilliant calcium carbonate structures are perishing rapidly, along with the countless species they sustain. Since the 1980s, approximately half of the Earth’s coral reefs have died, with that number steadily on the rise. Three years ago, scientists observed the third-ever global bleaching of coral reefs, in what has been called the largest coral destruction in history.

But there may be a glimmer of hope: back in 2015, scientists at Monaco’s marine-protected Larvatto Bay started using 3D printing to create artificial coral reefs in an effort to restore the area’s biodiversity. The latest case involving the use of 3D printing to help promote the growth of a coral reef ecosystem is taking place in the Maldives.

On 11 August, the world’s largest 3D printed reef was installed at Summer Island in the Maldives, in what is hoped could be a new technology-driven method to help coral reefs survive a warming climate.

The artificial reef, made from hundreds of ceramic and concrete modules, was submerged at Summer Island’s ‘Blue Lagoon’ – a sandy part of the lagoon, where the resort hopes to create a new coral reef ecosystem.

The project started in Melbourne, Australia, where industrial designer Alex Goad of Reef Design Lab used computing modeling to design reef structures that resembled the coral reefs found naturally in the Maldives. A large 3D printer took 24 hours to print moulds of the reef structures. These moulds were then cast in ceramic, an inert substance similar to the calcium carbonate found in coral reefs. The ceramic moulds were shipped from Australia to the Maldives, and filled with concrete on the beach at Summer Island.

220 ceramic, concrete filled moulds were then slotted together, like a giant LEGO set, to create the new reef.

“This is a science project, it’s a research project,” said Goad. “3D printing technology helps us to mimic the complexity of natural reef structures, so we can design artificial reefs that closely resemble those found in nature. We hope this will be a more effective way of growing and restoring corals.”

The new reef sits in seven meters of water, close to the resort’s existing coral nursery. Fragments of coral were taken from the nursery and transplanted onto the 3D printed reef. The team hopes that in a year or two, these corals will colonize the 3D printed reef.

The resort aims to study the 3D printed reef with the help of marine biologists over the coming years, to see if the 3D printing technology proves more successful at growing corals than existing coral propagation methods, such as with steel frames.

Goad said he will make his modular 3D designs open source, so other researchers in the Maldives can benefit from them without having to pay a licence fee.

Summer Island Resort Manager Mari Shareef explains: “Projects like the 3D printed reef are popular among guests, who like that we protect our environment. And it’s not only for the guests. Our staff, most of whom are Maldivian, want to protect their environment. Ultimately, we want to help promote a culture of environmental stewardship, not just at Summer Island, but across the Maldives.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Tom Fountain wrote at 8/31/2018 6:21:02 PM:

That's very cool. Are the 3D print files and ceramic casting process details available to others for similarly stressed reef elsewhere?

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